The original inhabitants of Rwanda were the Twa, a Pygmy people who now make up only 1% of the population. While the Hutu and Tutsi are often considered to be two separate ethnic groups, scholars point out that they speak the same language, have a history of intermarriage, and share many cultural characteristics. Traditionally, the differences between the two groups were occupational rather than ethnic. Agricultural people were considered Hutu, while the cattle-owning elite were identified as Tutsi. Supposedly Tutsi were tall and thin, while Hutu were short and square, but it is often impossible to tell one from the other. The 1933 requirement by the Belgians that everyone carry an identity card indicating tribal ethnicity as Tutsi or Hutu enhanced the distinction. Since independence, repeated violence in both Rwanda and Burundi has increased ethnic differentiation between the groups.
Rwanda, which became a part of German East Africa in 1890, was first visited by European explorers in 1854. During World War I, it was occupied in 1916 by Belgian troops. After the war, it became a Belgian League of Nations mandate, along with Burundi, under the name of Ruanda-Urundi. The mandate was made a UN trust territory in 1946. Until the Belgian Congo achieved independence in 1960, Rwanda-Urundi was administered as part of that colony. Belgium at first maintained Tutsi dominance but eventually encouraged power sharing between Hutu and Tutsi. Ethnic tensions led to civil war, forcing many Tutsi into exile. When Rwanda became the independent nation of Rwanda on July 1, 1962, it was under Hutu rule.
Dancing to the beat
As in all African countries, Rwanda has a rich tradition of celebrations involving music and dance. Celebratory dances are often backed by an ‘orchestra’ of drums, with up to nine players providing the beat.A set of nine drums typically has a soprano (the smallest drum ), a tenor, alto, two baritones, two bass and two double bass (the largest drums).
Though modern music and church/gospel hymns are popular in Rwanda today, some people still prefer the traditional folk songs. These are sometimes accompanied by a lone inanga, a zither instrument with a soundboard and up to eight strings.
One of the oldest Rwandan music and dance groups is the Intore Dance Troupe. The Intore – literally meaning ‘the Chosen Ones’ – were founded several centuries ago, when they performed at the court of the Rwandan mwami or king. Today, they perform across the country and also at the National Museum in Huye (Butare).